Miami airport to close terminal early as TSA screener absences rise

Travellers go through the TSA PreCheck security point at Miami International Airport in a file photo.
Travellers go through the TSA PreCheck security point at Miami International Airport in a file photo.PHOTOS: AFP

MIAMI (REUTERS) - Miami International Airport will close an airport terminal early over the next few days, officials said on Friday (Jan 11), with more unpaid security officers absent from work as the partial government shutdown has dragged on.

The airport said that on Saturday, Sunday and Monday it will end flights at 1pm EST (2am the following day, Singapore time) from Concourse G and relocate them to either to Concourse F or Concourse H.

Miami is the 14th busiest US airport, handling 20 million passengers annually.

The Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) 51,000 officers will miss a pay cheque on Friday as the shutdown hits its 21st day.

The screeners are among the lowest-paid federal employees.

While they will be paid once the shutdown ends, many say they will struggle to pay bills in the meantime.

Airport spokesman Greg Chin told the Miami Herald that TSA screeners are calling in sick at twice the normal rate for Miami and managers were not confident they would have enough workers to operate all 11 checkpoints during normal hours.

"We felt we had to make a decision before the weekend," Chin told the newspaper. "They're erring on the side of caution."


TSA spokesman Michael Bilello said that "in an effort to optimise resources without degrading screening and security effectiveness, where it is feasible, TSA is working with key stakeholders and industry partners to explore efforts to consolidate officers and operations."

Bilello said at Miami Airport on Thursday passengers "waited a maximum of 23 minutes yesterday" to clear security.

He added that TSA will not compromise security standards if TSA staffing levels fall.

Chin told the newspaper G is the slowest terminal at Miami Airport and 12 planes typically fly out of G after 1pm.

A TSA spokesman said the terminal closing early will not affect flights.

United Airlines and some smaller international airlines use Concourse G.

United said in a statement it did not expect operations to be affected "as we have arranged to fully utilise alternate gates for flights originally scheduled out of Terminal G."

TSA said on Friday it had an unscheduled absence rate of 5.1 per cent on Thursday compared to a 3.3 per cent rate a year ago.

Nationwide, TSA screened 1.96 million passengers on Thursday and 99.9 per cent of passengers waited less than 30 minutes, the agency added.